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  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 25-04-13 18:41


  • Deontological Ethics
  • Kant’s Copernican Revolution
  • The Moral Law
  • Goodwill and Duty
  • Freedom
  • The Hypothetical Imperative
  • The Categorical Imperative
  • WD Ross
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
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Deontological Ethics

  • Concerned with actions not consequences
  • Moral value is conferred by virtue of the actions in themselves
  • If a certain act is wrong then it is wrong in all circumstances and all conditions, irrespective of the consequences
  • Kant’s theory is deontological because it is based on duty
  • Kant rejected theological arguments for the existence of God, his ethical theory assumes immortality and God’s existence
  • Kant believed the after life and God must exist to provide an opportunity for reaching this supreme good
  • So for Kant morality lead to God
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The Moral Law

  • Objective moral law and we know this through reason
  • Moral rules exist and are binding. We know without reference to consequences
  • Statements:
    • A Priori= knowable without reference to experience (eg 1+1=2)
    • A Posteriori= Knowable through experience (eg  the car is blue)
    •  Analytic= Predicates (parts of the sentence) say something that that is necessity true about the subject (eg all bachelors are single)
    •  Synthetic= Require empirical (through senses) tests such as measurements, observations or experiments (eg Jack is a butcher) 
  • Ethical Statement-
    • A Priori Synthetic= knowable through reason, not sensation or experience and may or may not be true (not looking at consequences)
    • We can’t prove what people should do by looking so moral statements must be a priori, moral knowledge is gained by pure reason, not sense experience
    • As moral statements may be right or wrong they are also synthetic
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Goodwill and Duty

  • ‘Goodwill shines forth like a precious jewel. It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will’
  • Highest form of good= goodwill
  • Having a good will is to do ones duty
  • To do ones duty is to perform actions that are morally required and to avoid actions that are morally forbidden
  • To perform a moral action out of a desire for the good consequence it bring is to act in self-interest and is not a morally good action
  • We don’t do our duty because of the consequences of doing it, we do it for duty itself, duty is good in itself
  • Even if duty demanded the same action but it was done for a motive such as compassion the act would be moral for choosing it
  • Not moral for sake of love but for duty
  • Duty and reason can help guide our emotions, so that we aren’t ruled by them
  • Kant is described as having produced a system of ethics based on reason
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  • Humans are free to make rational choices
  •  Ability to freely rationalise/ reason is what distinguishes humans from animals:
  • Animals follow their desires and inclinations only= Phenomenal Realm
  • Human's  experience inclinations and reason= Phenomenal,  Noumenal Realm
  • God and angels are perfectly rational beings,without inclinations to lead them astray from following reason and objective  moral laws= Noumenal Realm
  • We have to be free to do our duty which is to follow the categorical imperative
  • If our choices aren’t free and our actions are controlled by factors beyond our control we cant truly be moral agents
  • ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ so something that is impossible can’t be a moral option
    •  Eg if 2 people are mugged at night and one is tied up and the other seriously assaulted. The person who has been tied up cannot help his friend. He has no choice and so has done nothing wrong
  • Human reason means we are able to choose what we do: we can freely make moral decisions
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Hypothetical Imperative

  • Hypothetical imperatives do not prescribe or demand any action and are not moral
  • Not moral commands to the will as they do not apply to everyone
  • Only need to obey them if you want to achieve a certain ‘goal’, that’s why the hypothetical imperative mostly begins with the word ‘if’
  • An action that achieves some goal or end
  • Eg if I want to lose weight I should go on a diet and exercise more
  • Depends on the results and aims at personal well being
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Categorical Imperative

  • Helps us know which actions are obligatory and which are forbidden
  • ‘All imperatives command either hypothetically or categorically…if the action would be good simply as a means to something else, then the imperative is hypothetical; but if the action is represented as good in itself…then the imperative is categorical’
  • Kant argued morality is prescriptive; it prescribes moral behaviour
  • Once you are aware of a moral requirement, your awareness is a reason for doing something
  • Moral statements are categorical in that they prescribe actions irrespective of the result
  • For Kant only moral imperatives were categorical: I ought to do such and such (eg I ought to tell the truth) as this makes no reference to desire or need
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Categorical Imperative- Universe Law

  • Do not act on any principle that cannot be universalised
  • Moral laws must be applied in all situations and all rational beings universally, without exception
  • Moral law permits certain actions and forbids others
  • To allow exceptions would harm someone and have an eroding effect on society
  • Kant used the example of lying:
    • Even though we think in some circumstances a lie is better than the truth
    • A lie always harms someone, if not the liar then mankind generally as it violates the source of law
    • If everyone was to act in this way society would become intolerable
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Categorical Imperative-Humans as Ends

  • Treat humans as ends in themselves
  • Can never treat people as means to an end
  • Never use humans for another purpose to exploit or enslave them
  • Humans are rational and the highest point of creation and so demand unique treatment (this guarantees individuals are afforded same moral protection)
  • Have a duty to develop our own perfection, developing our moral, intellectual and physical capabilities
  • Have a duty to seek the happiness of others as long as it is within the law and allows the freedom of others
  • We should not promote one persons happiness if that happiness prevents another happiness
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Categorical Imperative- Kigdom of Ends

  • Required moral statements to be such that you act as if you and everyone else were treating each other as ends
  • Cant act on a rule that assumes that others don’t treat people as ends
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Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Strengths
    • Kant’s theory provides moral laws that hold universally
    • Simple theory
    • Kant has the greatest respect for human dignity and autonomy.
    • His theory does not allow us to show favouritism for friends. It is a purely rational Kant’s theory provided a basis for Human Rights.
  • Weaknesses
    •  There are some occasions when consequences are so severe that many think it is better to break a rule than allow awful things to happen.  
    • Conflicting duty?.
    • Why should we believe that there is objective morality?
    • Too Vague
    • Surely we need to refer to experience to work out what is right,
    • Universal rules aren’t helpful in the real world where every situation is different
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W D Ross

  • Adapted the Kantian approach. Described our obligations as 'Prima Facie' duties a moral obligation binding us to follow it unless there’s an overriding obligation
  • Ross set out 7 foundational duties that he acknowledged might not be complete:
    • Duty to keep promises
    • Duty to reparation for harm done.
    • Duties of gratitude.
    • Duties of justice.
    • Duties of beneficence to others
    • Duties of self-development.
    • Duties not to injure others
  • These duties are important in moral decision-making, but ultimately choosing is a matter of judgement. The duties don’t tell us what to do
  • The duties should not be listed in any order.
  •  In making a moral decision, our intuition identifies our prima facie duties
  •  Our choice of action is down to judgement, improved through our experience
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W D Ross Continued

  • In a given moral situation, you have the facts of what’s going on and the way in which its viewed:
    • When considering an abortion the person doesn’t have absolute certainty about the situation and what is right. They can’t truly be in this position of absolute knowledge. All they really know is what they think is right to do in the situation that they think they are in
  • Differentiated between things that are right to do and things that are good to do:
  • Ross’ theory goes some way to addressing the difficulty that absolutist theories of ethics face when two absolutists conflict
  • Kant believed that a son should be honest to a murderer about the whereabouts of his father, because one must always be truthful. The preservation of life of the father cant overrule the requirement to be truthful
  • Ross offers a way round this problem by being able to set aside the principle for truthfulness for the higher duty of preserving the life of the father
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